“HOW THE %$#@ DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER? Take me off your call list!”

… Not really the cold-call response you’re looking for!

How do you do discovery research on your prospect and reach out with the information you found – without creeping them out?

How personal is TOO personal?

Web tracking technologies have been around for a few years – and have made new headlines lately; it’s unsettling when technology pays too much attention. When you’re talking with a colleague about a new car you’re hoping to purchase, turn to your computer, and see ads for that very car – it’s helpful, kind of.

It still makes us uncomfortable to know that our data is out there, being used for … well, who knows?

Knowing too much is disturbing enough, in the form of digital ads. When a salesperson has what the prospect thinks is too much information – even if it is business information – it can sour the cold-call from the word “go.”

In order to approach your prospects with a cold call with just the amount of personalization, we’ll take a look at 1.) the kind of info you’re using, 2.) what not to say during the call, and 3.) how to weave intent data into a conversation … all without sounding like a creep!

We break down prospect data, or sales intelligence, into three types: Fit, Opportunity, and Intent.

“Fit” data: Not creepy

fit data is important for a cold callAll salespeople use basic demographic data and firmographic data. And most people know that salespeople have this information – so this is nothing new.

For an individual prospect, this Fit data refers to demographic data:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Email address
  • Phone number

For companies in your target market, it’s firmographic data:

  • Industry
  • Size
  • Number of employees
  • Physical location
  • Tech stack

It’s basic, yes – but Fit data is necessary. Without knowing if a prospect is not in a decision-making role, or if a company is in the wrong industry or has a tech stack that doesn’t compliment your offering – the sale will never happen.

Fit data is commonly used for account scoring and lead qualification.

Most professionals have accepted the fact that this kind of information is available from third-party vendors or zealous internet researchers.

It’s not considered overly “creepy” or too personal to use Fit information, or refer to it in a cold call.

You’re not being a creep … yet.

Opportunity data: A little creepy

sales-demo-for-softwareOpportunity data is not so easy to find. And use of this data is where things can start to get creepy. This is information such as:

  • Financial events
  • Hiring and layoffs
  • Earnings reports
  • Plans for mergers and acquisitions
  • Management changes
  • New company initiatives

Occasionally this kind of information may be available publicly, on a company website or press release, for example – but only after the fact. More often, the only way to get the scoop is by calling in to the company and asking, as DiscoverOrg’s professional research team does.

This kind of information can theoretically be found online, so it isn’t necessarily considered creepy to reference it in a cold call.

Intent data: Very creepy

don't cold call your prospect and creep them outWelcome to Definite Creeper Territory, where overzealous salespeople can easily tip their hand too much and make target buyers feel like they’re being stalked.

Intent data refers to implicit behavior: that is, actions which link prospects to an issue or pain point. Intent data includes:

  • Web search history
  • Content subject or topics
  • Downloads
  • Time on page
  • Social media metrics


You can’t just stumble across this kind of information with a Google search. Intent data is difficult to obtain without using a third-party service. (Is it any wonder a prospect feels like they’re being stalked, when they receive a cold call referencing information like this?)

Now that we’ve classified the three types of prospect data, we’ll identify what you should definitely NOT to say in your cold call. Finally, we’ll talk about how to weave personal data into a truly helpful conversation.

Read More: Artificial Intelligence Statistics for Business

What NOT to say in a cold call

Updates about Intent and Opportunity data (aka “Scoops”) from DiscoverOrg include insights like this:

discoverorg scoops offer company insights

If you sell marketing automation software, you may imagine how helpful it would be to know that “Kroger employees have conducted significant online research into email deliverability.”

So you pick up the phone and call the Marketing Manager. “Hi Kathy, I’ve heard your team has been looking into email deliverability solutions …”


OK, how about, “Hello, Kathy. It sounds like you’re struggling with email deliverability …”

Stop. Put the phone down.

Sales reps spend half their time prospectingDo not start your phone call with statements like:

  • “I see you’re looking into …”
  • “I know you’re working on …”
  • “I’ve heard that you have a new project …”

The general reply to statements like this is defense and denial:

  • “No, we’re not.”
  • “How did you know that?”
  • “Where did you get this information?”

Think about it.

How would you feel if your phone rang and the stranger at the other end said, “I know where you live, your cat’s name … and what you’re doing right now. Eating a sandwich, huh? Is that turkey? You’re not a mustard guy?”

No one likes feeling that they’re under a microscope. A negative response is natural when a stranger reveals that they know personal information.

So here’s what to say instead.

How to use intent data without being creepy

According to our VP of Sales, Steve Bryerton, Intent data should be seen as a prompt, alerting the salesperson that the time is right to reach out – without mentioning the prompt itself to the prospect at all.

“The Scoop, or inside piece of information, helps provide timing and context to a message, but it should not be THE message,” Bryerton says. “It doesn’t come off well to frame it as a literal question. The salesperson should think of it this way: ‘I did my homework. I’m reaching out because I have something that can really help you and your company. I want to be a valuable partner.’

Bryerton recommends referencing intent data in your cold call like so:

  1. “I’ve been seeing X trend in your industry. Are you seeing that, too?”
  2. “Many companies in your industry start thinking about X when they get to be your size. Is your company thinking about that, as well?”
  3. “I talk to dozens of people a day who struggle with X, and I have some great ideas for solving it. If you’ve struggled with this issue too, maybe I can help.”
  4. “Your peers say X is an issue. What do you think?”

As a salesperson, you have hundreds of these calls every month. Your prospect, on the other hand, works in a bubble: They might talk to a couple of people about an issue – but it’s your job to solve that very problem, every single day.

You already know your prospect needs your solution, because you have the Scoop.

Bryerton suggests approaching the conversation as an expert in a consultative role. You have unique insight and knowledge to to offer the prospect.

The final touch: Social proof

Finally, to cement your position as a helper (who isn’t creepy), add “social proof”: Show that you have assisted other companies (in the same industry as your prospect, of course) – and offer examples such as stats and case studies.

DiscoverOrg’s Senior Customer Success Manager, Ricky Kalmbach, suggests using the 5×5 Method.

The “5×5 Method” means finding 5 pieces of information in 5 minutes. Look for information that is publically available, such as a CEO’s quote in a press release, a blog post by a senior executive, a datasheet published by your prospect about their new product, news about their competitors – or any trigger events.


The purpose of 5×5 research is to create a hyper-relevant metaphor. You’re saying: “Here’s how I’ve helped other companies like yours achieve X.” And because the information in the 5×5 research is publicly available, you’re showing that you did your homework (… and you’re not a stalker).

Kalmbach also suggests looking at the company’s website and social media accounts, or do a quick Google search for related news.

Why 5 minutes?

You don’t want to spend much time barking up the wrong tree. If it takes more than 5 minutes to find relevant information, move on and look for something else.

Cold calling is hard, and half of the problem is knowing what to say.

The other half? Knowing what not to say.


Let us know when you’re ready to start winning.



We already have deep insights into your target accounts.


Charity Heller
About the author

Charity Heller

Content Strategist, DiscoverOrg

Charity Heller, DiscoverOrg's content strategy manager, has been developing, composing, and editing content since age 2. Before her dive into content marketing, she founded and operated a book-editing company for 10 years. Charity has a B.A. in English literature, Professional Editing Certification from U.C. Berkeley, and she's a certified Project Manager.